The Small Claims Court is the division of District Court that handles certain disputes between two or more parties when the amount disputed doesn’t exceed $5,000. Small Claims disputes are decided by a judge in an informal manner. For more information, see the Hawaii State Judiciary’s web page on Small Claims Court by clicking here.
Cases filed in Small Claims Court must be mediated before trial.
This means that before you present your case to a judge, you must first try to settle your case in mediation, either at Small Claims Court or at a dispute resolution provider such as the Mediation Center of the Pacific.
For more information, see the Hawaii State Judiciary’s brochure “Going to Small Claims Court?” by clicking here.
HOW DOES MEDIATION AT THE MEDIATION CENTER OF THE PACIFIC WORK?
If you want to try to settle your dispute through mediation before filing a claim, you may contact the Mediation Center of the Pacific at 521-6767. Parties are encouraged to try to settle their dispute through mediation before filing a claim at Small Claims Court. Whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant in a Small Claims case, you can choose to open a mediation case at the Mediation Center of the Pacific.
HOW DOES MEDIATION AT SMALL CLAIMS COURT WORK?
The judge will briefly explain the Small Claims process. Then the Court Clerk will call each case and instruct the parties in contested cases to go with a mediator. The mediator and parties meet together and each party has an opportunity to express their point of view. The mediator helps the parties work out an agreement that resolves the dispute. Mediators do not judge, or tell parties what to do; the parties create the agreement themselves. All Small Claims mediators at court are trained by the Mediation Center of the Pacific.
For more information, see the Hawaii State Judiciary’s web page on Mediation for Small Claims by clicking here.
WHAT HAPPENS IF WE REACH A MEDIATED AGREEMENT?
Cases mediated at the Mediation Center of the Pacific:
If the case is mediated before it has been filed at Small Claims Court, and you reach an agreement that fully resolves the dispute, then there is no need to file in court. The mediator will put the agreement in writing and the parties receive copies of the agreement. If the case is mediated after it has been filed at Small Claims Court but before the trial date, and you reach an agreement that fully resolves the dispute, the parties can agree to dismiss the case so that they do not have to apear in court.
Cases mediated at Small Claims Court:
The mediator will put the parties’ agreement in writing. The parties receive copies of the agreement, and return to the court where it is presented to the judge and the claim is dismissed. The agreement can be entered into the court record.
WHAT HAPPENS IF WE DON’T REACH AN AGREEMENT IN MEDIATION?
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement through mediation at Small Claims Court, the parties will return to court for a trial before the judge, usually that same day. If progress was made during mediation, but there was not enough time to finalize an agreement, then another option is to have the parties ask the judge to refer the case to the Mediation Center of the Pacific to allow them more time to ‘fine-tune’ their agreement.
WHY SHOULD I MEDIATE?
YOU DECIDE. Once a judge makes a decision in a Small Claims case, at least one party (and sometimes all) leaves unhappy. There is no right of appeal from a judgment; the decision of the judge is final. In mediation, it is the parties, with the help of a mediator, who decide the solution and control the outcome of the case. Mediation offers an opportunity to be creative, and allows the parties to explore resolution options that meet their satisfaction. Often the parties are more satisfied with the outcome if they decided it themselves, rather than if a judge decided the case and forced a decision upon them. Mediated agreements have a high compliance rate because the parties themselves create their own solution that is unique to their particular situation.
CUSTOMIZED SOLUTIONS. Even if you ‘win’ your case, the court does not collect the money for you. The collection process can be time consuming. A mediator can help you develop an agreement that meets the specific circumstances of your case (including a detailed payment plan). This agreement can become a record of the court.
PRIVATE. A court judgment may appear on your credit records, and courts are public places. Mediation offers more privacy because everything said in mediation is confidential.
For more information, see the Hawaii State Judiciary’s Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution (CADR) November 2011 newsletter on Small Claims Court by clicking here.
ARE THERE ADVANTAGES TO MEDIATING AT THE MEDIATION CENTER OF THE PACIFIC?
Yes. Some advantages you should consider before filing a claim are:
Convenience. Small Claims Court assigns you a date and time to appear. You must wait your turn until your case can be mediated and/or tried.
At the Mediation Center of the Pacific, there is flexibility in picking the date and time of mediation. The Mediation Center of the Pacific has mediators available Monday through Thursday during the morning, afternoon and evening, as well as on Friday and Saturday morning. Cases can be scheduled by calling the Client Services Department at 521-6767.
Time. Due to the large number of cases in court and the set time period for Small Claims cases, mediation at court is usually limited to approximately 20 to 30 minutes. In contrast, mediating at the Mediation Center of the Pacific allows the parties to take the time they feel is necessary to work out an agreement. Mediation sessions at the Mediation Center of the Pacific last approximately 3 hours.
Trial is still an option. If the parties are not able to reach an agreement through mediation, they can still return to court.
For more information, see the Hawaii State Judiciary’s brochure “Your Guide to Small Claims Court” by clicking here.